The Real Reason People Have Different Sneezes

Sneezes, the bane of polite company everywhere. Everything is fine one minute and the next your nose is itching, your eyes are watering, and you know you're about to get more attention than you want. And it doesn't matter if your sneeze is loud and proud or a soft squeak that can barely be heard. Someone is going to comment on it.

Depending on the reactions you get, you might be tempted to try and change your sneeze. And there's no shame in that. But it turns out your sneeze might be harder to change than you think. Factors ranging from nostril size to cultural upbringing to lung capacity can all affect your sneeze in interesting ways. And some of them — try as you might — aren't easily changed.

Nostril size, for example, plays a pretty large role in the sound of your sneeze. The fastest sneeze ever recorded was going 102 miles per hour (per Discovery) and the Edgerton Center at MIT found sneezes can send droplets up to 26 feet away from a person's body. With air moving that fast through your nose, your nostril size and shape will affect the sound. Lung capacity also plays a role, since that's going to affect how much air you take in before you sneeze.

Dr. Adrian Morris of the Surrey Allergy Clinic added another factor when speaking to Stylist in 2020. Dr. Morris elucidated the difference between cluster sneezes and single sneezes, pointing to the body's histamine reaction as the culprit.

"If you are prone to sneezing in clusters, that can mean your body is actually releasing the histamine into your nose in doses rather than all at once."

The language of sneezes

More surprising than the speed of a sneeze, however, is the impact your upbringing will have on your sneeze. Stylist interviewed several people for the article mentioned earlier and one of those people was James Chapman. Chapman, a graphic designer based in Manchester, has an entire Tumblr dedicated to the odd ways language changes from place to place. Specifically the way people mimic animal sounds or vocalize sneezes.

For his book How to Sneeze in Japanese, Chapman dug into the different ways people around the world vocalize their sneezes. He found that while in America, people generally go with "achoo," people from Turkey prefer "hapsu." In Poland, "A-psik" is more common.

And the difference is even greater between people who are born deaf or go deaf at an early age and those who can hear. As Popular Science reported in 2013, people who have been deaf from early childhood tend not to vocalize their sneezes at all. This difference was even highlighted on The Limping Chicken, a UK-based blog for the deaf community. Charlie Swinbourne pokes a little fun at a difference that many hearing people aren't even aware of, further highlighting the way our personal experience of the world shapes our sneezes.

So you can change your sneeze if you want to. Just remember that it's as unique as you are!